After a wonderful and hilarious weekend spent with a group of my old university friends, I set today aside to do a lot of housework. The carpet wants scrubbing (well, the carpet always wants scrubbing; black cat + cream carpet = constant fluff), there's an enormous pile of laundry to be done and the beds need changing. Just at the moment, though, Joshy and I are having a break from this domestic activity and watching 'Bagpuss', and a very nice time we're having too.
Before turning on the TV I made a cup of tea, microwaved a piece of cake, and then took a further moment to book a smear test. I am due, but not overdue, to have one and had been advised by my GP to wait for about three months after giving birth before going for my next one; as Joshua is four months old, it was about time I actually made the appointment. So I shall now look forward to Tuesday 3rd March at 3pm, with a certain amount of trepidation. Smears are not dignified, it must be said. They're not excessively painful, but it's hardly as if they're administered using the nice end of a feather. However, in common with all the thousands of other women who have recently stopped procrastinating and got on the phone to their local surgery to arrange their next smear, for me those two concerns paled somewhat into insignificance upon reading in the papers about Jade Goody's struggle with cervical cancer, which is likely to claim her life in the not too distant future. On Saturday, one of my university friends (who has experienced her own brush with cancer but is entirely free of it now, to everyone's immeasurable relief) commented, apropos of Jade, "I feel so sorry for her... that could have been me, having to leave my children behind...". That was all the reminder I needed to get my act together and make the appointment, and it has also served to cement my attitude towards Jade Goody, having read far more about her in the papers during the past few weeks than when she was in the 'Big Brother' house in 2002.
Since such programmes became annual staples of TV, making famous people like Chantelle Houghton (who was brought onto one show - I forget which - to see if the other contestants could be fooled into thinking she was a 'celebrity' of whom they had not previously heard), yards and yards have been written on the subject of the new 'celebrity culture' by those who consider the championing of apparently talentless and fame-hungry types to be a national disgrace. And even as Jade Goody grows frailer, discussion forums are getting busier; depending upon the publication you read, contributors are either leaving comments of the "thinking of you Jade - stay strong" variety, or taking the opportunity to air disapproving opinions about that which Jade stands for. 'Debates' are springing up all over the place, in which people discuss Jade's decision to play out her illness in full view of the public, or indeed her 'right' to be in the public eye in the first place. Seldom has a person's life and likely death been so much of a focus for so many, and it is interesting to note that almost none of the newspaper articles written about her during the past months have felt the need to define, label and identify her, as are almost all other famous people. Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Harriet Harman and Hugh Dennis are all routinely prefixed by the words 'celebrity chef', 'domestic goddess', 'deputy Labour leader' or 'comedian' when mentioned in the media, but Jade Goody now needs no such introduction. Perhaps, like Stephen Fry, she is famous for so many things it would be difficult to select just one by which to encapsulate her. But, whatever the reason, she has become ubiquitous over the past six years, and as she prepares to die, the interest in her shows no sign of abating. Someone has predicted that a film will be made of her life story. Someone else wrote at the weekend that "you couldn't make this woman's life up... her story is almost operatic". Almost everyone now knows about the challenging circumstances from whence Jade came, and few can be unaware of her meteoric rise to fame by way of 'Big Brother', 'What Jade Did Next' and her many other subsequent ventures. She has been accused variously over the years of being thick, uneducated, coarse, racist, and a poster-girl for the unfortunate and gradual decline of 'Great' Britain; now, in what will probably be the final weeks of her life, you are more likely to hear words like 'inspirational', 'brave' and 'courageous' being applied to her. The flow of bile really has stopped, and rightly so; it is obviously unacceptable to kick someone whilst they are so very down, and as they stare death in the face knowing there is no chance of recovery. Jade will undoubtedly be remembered for years to come, and although she has far more important things to think about and to do at the moment, like ensuring her beloved sons will be properly cared for, she will certainly leave a legacy, as indeed we all do to some degree. And, putting the tremendous sadness of the situation aside for a moment, it is really interesting to consider how that legacy might manifest itself, because of how she has been regarded until very recently.
Jade has probably amused, offended, entertained and irritated in fairly equal measure since she initially burst onto our screens in 2002. Never one to think too carefully before she spoke, she managed to spark off a furious public debate on racism after making a couple of ill-advised comments about Shilpa Shetty on 'Celebrity Big Brother', and the nation variously enjoyed her mispronunciation of words and the geographical confusion she displayed in the Big Brother house and which were gleefully quoted and re-quoted during the ensuing five years. During this period everyone watched, open-mouthed, as she became more and more famous and wealthy simply for being herself, followed as she was by a constant crew of TV cameras and producers who were queuing up to cash in on her bewildering success. This was the first time this had really happened, as previously people tended to become well-known for being or doing something significant. And this was the problem that so many people have had with Jade Goody: she was famous for no discernable reason, and there were plenty who didn't like the idea of that. Reams have been written since her cancer diagnosis became public about the millions of other, unknown but dearly loved, people who have fallen victim to this appalling disease and who have not had the access to the hundreds of thousands of pounds that are currently coming Jade's way. That is understandable, and no one ever said life was fair. It isn't, and there are no two ways about that. But it's important to remember that the vast sum of money for which Jade and her new husband sold the rights to their Sunday wedding will not be spent on her own enjoyment. She won't be buying clothes, BMWs, a vulgar mansion or a new beauty salon; there would be no point in a dying woman doing such a thing. She has pledged publicly to put it all in savings for her two little boys, who - like all children - deserve a good education, something which Jade didn't receive herself. Perhaps they will, as a result, grow up with some of the advantages their mother didn't herself enjoy, and will make something very worthwhile of themselves. That can only be a good thing. And, as a mother myself, I can only imagine how Jade's entire family must be feeling at the moment, but most importantly how Jade herself must feel when she remembers that she ignored the abnormal result of a smear. I am sure she must be struggling with an unenviable mixture of guilt, despair and incredible sadness at the thought that she has only had a few years with her children. For that reason alone she deserves nothing but sympathy, care and support in these last weeks of her life. She is prepared to live out the rest of her life in front of the cameras for the sake of her little sons, and will not herself benefit from this one jot.
Roy Castle, Ruth Picardie and John Diamond all wrote and spoke about their respective battles with cancer, to a mostly appreciative audience. That they did so with dignity and well-chosen words is to their credit. They were all well-regarded for both their talents and their willingness to speak out honestly about the experiences they and their families faced as a result of their illnesses, and they have all left behind much of which their loved ones can be proud - legacies of entertainment and fun, excellent writing, wonderful memories, an increased awareness of the dangers of smoking and passive smoking, and fundraising charities which strive to defeat cancer and offer a cure to millions. Jade should not be denied her legacy, too - if the experts are correct, and the "Jade Goody Effect" has spurred as many on to book overdue smears as they say, then every woman in the country should be grateful to her for publicising cervical cancer, because perhaps their lives will be saved for this reason. Whether or not she intended this to happen is entirely beside the point. She has raised awareness of a disease which will take her life from her many more years before she was ready to surrender it, and there can't be many women in Britain who haven't recently taken a moment to work out when their next smear is due . It matters nothing that this has happened because of a former Big Brother contestant; the important thing is that more women, including myself, have Jade Goody partly to thank for the reminder that life is precious. And this, more than anything else, should be how she is remembered, as it is one achievement which truly merits the fame she has courted for so long.